In a matter of a little over 10 minutes — including four in overtime — the Central Cougars turned an offensive nightmare into a third trip to the state title game on Friday at Redbird Arena.
After seeing her potenital game-winning shot roll in and out at the end of regulation, Alicia Book gave Central the lead for good with just over two minutes left in overtime and the Cougars took off from there as they scored a 50-41 win over the (Elmhurst) Immaculate Conception Lady Knights in a Class 2A semifinal.
Book’s basket gave Central a 43-41 lead and when all-state junior Kendra Wilken scored off a nifty pass from junior Kaylee Schrand 24 seconds later, Central (31-3) had a 45-41 cushion and control of the game.
Schrand and Sophie Rickhoff then combined to hit five of seven free throws in the closing 1 minute 26 seconds as the Cougars outscored IC 9-0 in overtime to move into the state title game against (Kankakee) Bishop McNamara on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
Bishop McNamara advanced with a 57-40 win over (Bloomington) Central Catholic on Friday.
State champions in 2007 and Class 2A state tournament runner-up in 2012, the Cougars shot just 31 percent from the floor and committed 17 turnovers in the physical contest, but trailing by eight points early in the fourth quarter, Central turned up the defensive pressure and not only got back into the game, but used its defense to make the difference in the game.
“We weren’t getting much done on the offensive end, so we needed to put a little more pressure on them to see if we could generate some offesne that way,’’ Cougars coach Nathan Rueter said. “We were able to get some steals and got back into the game.
“If anyone had told me before the season that we would be playing for the state championship with as much inexperience as we had, I wouldn’t have believed them. But now that we’re here, we’re going to try and make the most out of this opportunity.’’
Wilken, just 5 of 17 from the floor, led Central with 15 points while Book and Schrand added 10 each.
Central trailed 21-15 after a first half in which it was just 3-of-20 from the field (15 percent) and committed eight turnovers. Wilken struggled the most , missing nine of 10 shots, including six from 6-feet or closer to the basket.
The only saving grace for the Cougars was a 9-of-11 performance from the foul line. Wilken was five-of-six from the charity stripe in the first two quarters.
Both teams were nervous early. The Cougars missed their first eight shots and didn’t score from the field until Wilken tallied on an offensive putback with 1:24 left in the first period to tie the game at 6.
A 3-point basket by Tess Reardon and a short jumper by Anjella Farmer gave the Lady Knights an 11-6 lead after one quarter and when IC scored the first six points of the second quarter, the lead grew to 17-6.
But Wilken made five of six free throws and when Book hit a short jumper, the Cougars had closed to within four points before settling for a six point halftime deficit.
For the second time in three years, the Carlyle Indians have a Class 2A 3-Point Showdown winner.
Sophomore Lexi Steele made 9 of 15 3-point shots to defeat three other finalists as she captured the Class 2A title at Redbird Arena. The finals were held between Class 2A semifinals on Friday.
Minutes after Monticello freshman Zanna Myers made six of her 15 attempts, Steele calmly drained nine to take the lead. Lexi Devries of Byron ended the competition by making eight, one short of tying Steele for the title.
“Was I nervous? Yes, but I think that’s only natural. I just tried to focus on my form and the rim,’’ Steele said. “My coach (Janelle Pfeiffer) really helped me. She talks to me all the time.”
The win earned Steele a return trip to Redbird Arena next Saturday, where she will compete in the finals of the Queen of the Hill Competition against the winners of the other three classes.
Former Indians all-stater Paige Rakers won the overall Queen of the Hill competiton in 2013. Rakers is now a sophomore on the University of Michigan women’s basketbal team.
“I talked to Paige yesterday (Thursday) and told her that Lexi was shooting in the 3-point competition. She told me to tell her good luck and that it was really cool,’’ Pfeiffer said. “This is just awesome. I’m so proud of Lexi.’’
In Class A, Lebanon senior Kara Koester made 6 of 15 3-point attempts but failed to make the finals. Okawville freshman Madison Hackstadt sank 4 of her 15-3-point attempts but failed to make the finals.
‘Hardin’ to beat
Making their first appearance in the Class A State Tournament, the Hardin-Calhoun Warriors rolled into the title game with an easy 49-36 semifinal win over (Gilman) Iroquois West on Friday afternoon at Redbird Arena.
Sophomore all-stater Emma Baalman led the Warriors with 19 points and 16 rebounds, while junior Kassidy Klocke added 13 points. The Warriors defeated New Athens 62-34 in the title game of the Okawville Sectional two weeks ago and also own wins over Mater Dei and Civic Memorial (twice) during the 14-15 season.